Growing Up Color Blind, and Why That’s A Tragedy
I’ve always felt a sense of pride growing up in the Silicon Valley. We are incredibly diverse here in Northern California, and I’ve always considered myself to be “color blind.” I had friends of different ethnic backgrounds and different skin colors. But their racial heritage never made much of a difference.
We played our games, we ate our pizza, we went to school side-by-side. We competed in sports, complained about PE, did our homework, and it never seemed to matter what color our skin was.
Except….now, looking back, I see the tragic flaw. We weren’t color blind at all. We were color silent.
We ignored our differences. We pretended they did not exist. We tried to force ourselves into the melting pot of culture, everyone’s unique variations and vibrant heritage blurring around the edges into a shapeless gray.
I never got to hear the back stories…
My friend Iditt was Jewish. But never once did I ask if her grandparents ever spoke of the Holocaust, or if she ever felt any racial or religious prejudice growing up Jewish in California. I knew she observed different holidays, but I never asked her what they meant.
Celine’s family narrowly escaped Saigon when she was an infant. But I never asked her how, or why.
There was one black girl on the entire volleyball team. I don’t remember her name. I assumed then she didn’t notice – no one else seemed to. Somehow, now, I don’t think that’s true. But I’ll never know – I never asked.
There were others. Children of immigrant parents, first generation Americans, and immigrants themselves, learning English while trying to keep up in math and journalism and biology.
I never heard any of their stories. We pretended the stories did not exist.
I didn’t think I was allowed to ask. That by asking, I was somehow being racist. By noticing my friends’ differences, that I would somehow shame them for being different. And so, I never asked. They never offered. I never knew.
In light of recent events in our broken country, I realize how that silence is hurting us. We are not the same. We are not a shapeless, nameless, colorless grey. We all have stories, and our individual cultural heritage is rich and vibrant and worth sharing.
I need to know. I want to know….I want to know what your life was like growing up African-American, Latino or Asian. Indian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern… I want to know your stories. I want to know what you love about not being white. I want to know when it was hard, or painful. I want to know your story.
I want you to know that I’m asking because I think it’s important. Beyond our physical differences, it is our stories that make us human. It is in our stories that we find points of connection and commonality. It is in our stories that we can learn what true suffering and social injustice really mean, beyond the photos on CNN.
I need to know.
You know, I love my church. I’ve been part of the same church family since I was five years old. These are my people. They are my village. They’ve loved me and raised me. They threw my bridal showers and baby showers and they hosted my mother’s funeral. This church is part of who I am.
Seven churches. SEVEN. (Or is it eight now, since I began writing this post?!) Seven church families shattered by the loss of their home – all burned. All of them historically black churches.
An eighth ripped apart with bullets barely six weeks ago.
I cannot possibly know what this experience is truly like, but I want to know. I know that if I lost my church in such a way, I would be crippled. Crushed. Heartbroken. But I can only imagine…I cannot know
Unless you tell me.
May I ask you? May I ask about your background, your heritage, your culture? Perhaps if we stopped pretending we were all the same, we could learn from one another. Perhaps, by sharing the truth of what it’s like to not be white, we can make a tiny dent in the ignorance and hate of racism. Our stories make us human. When you hear someone’s story, their real, true, deep story, you are irrevocably connected to them. A small piece of them will be forever ingrained upon your heart.
Stories connect us to one another. Stories erase the nameless, faceless, grey blur. The individualize us. They highlight our edges and differences in a way that is beautiful and vital. An illumination of our differences in such a way that the person hearing our story is just the tiniest bit forever changed.
A story gives the nameless a face and a background.
Stories help us find our common ground – like this one, in which Muslims are standing up for the oppression of blacks in this country.
“The American Muslim community cannot claim to have experienced anything close to the systematic and institutionalized racism and racist violence that has been visited upon African-Americans,” organizer Imam Zaid Shakir wrote on the campaign’s website.
However, Muslims can understand the “climate of racially inspired hate and bigotry that is being reignited in this country,” he wrote, saying the American Muslim community should stand in solidarity with African-Americans.”
The shortest distance between strangers and friends is found along the road of a shared story.
Your story matters. It is what makes you who you are, and there are others who need to hear it. Your story could be her hope.
Your story could be his enlightenment.
Your story matters.
Go out today and ask someone who is a different color than you to tell you their story. Tell them yours. Then come back here, and tell me what you learned.
I want to know.
Teachers and parents always used to reiterate “it does not matter where we come from” or “if we look different” because “we are all the same.” But in reality, we were never all the same.
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